Published Articles by Doris Weatherford

It’s Complicated

July 31, 2017

The most important lesson to be learned from the failure of “repeal and replace” hasn’t been sufficiently spelled out. The main message we should get is simply: Things are complicated. Modern society is complicated. Economics is complicated. Healthcare is complicated -- and because health is individualized, it demands attention to a great variety of details. Thus the reason that many Republicans gave for their initial rejection of Obamacare was that the bill was long, and as my neighbor averred, “no one even has read it.”


I bit my tongue and didn’t ask him how anything gets written without someone reading it. Writing that appears without reading would be akin to the Ten Commandments coming down from the sky on clay, and presumably worthy of our attention. Seriously, however, although this excuse may have worked back in 2010, the next seven years offered opponents plenty of time to read the Affordable Healthcare Act. The public figured out what actually was going on, and unlike any political action in a very long time, ordinary people put the kibosh on lazy-minded congressmen – who, of course, always have had free health care. Conveniently located, too, in their very workplace.


The point, though, is larger. We need to think about thinking, and every student should have a basic course in logic and critical analysis. Rhetoric that encourages people to believe that everything is simple not only is illogical and lazy, but also can be dangerous when used by demagogues who rise to power with simplistic slogans. We see that on a regular basis in Third World nations, but even seemingly sophisticated American businessmen sometimes resort to simplistic solutions if the topic is government.


I remember Ross Perot’s television ads, where he stood in front of a car and alleged that all problems could be solved by “just getting under the hood.” As if that thought never occurred to anyone else. And when a Hillary spends decades under the hood of healthcare, she is ridiculed for her effort and knowledge. Don’t listen to anyone who says it’s simple. It only means they know nothing – and don’t want to learn.


They are the modern equivalents of the 19th Century’s “Know Nothing” party, a party based on negativism. They opposed everything, but especially immigrants in general and Catholics in particular. They got their moniker because when questioned about attacks on Catholics and Catholic property, they “knew nothing.” Substitute “Muslim” for “Catholic,” and we have the same thing today. Such people want a “one-size-fits all” world, not the true freedom and personal liberty that they proclaim. They have no idea of how much they don’t know, and worse, are proud to persist in their ignorance.


On Science: Double-thinking or Just Plain Hypocrisy?


Which can bring us to STEM and conservative ambivalence about science. Florida’s Republican legislature and governor have imposed a STEM curriculum on schools, insisting in capital letters on more Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. I’m not opposed to those subjects, of course, although Hubby -- a math major and international expert on probability theory – says that the most wasted time of his school life was in calculus classes. We both fear that the subconscious aim of many lawmakers is not so much to focus on physical science, but instead to cut back on social science. They especially don’t want their constituents to know much about economics, history, and government.


Yet they nonetheless are ambivalent about their Science with a capital S. They want it emphasized, but only within their own framework. Biology and geology are to be taught without allusion to evolution, a principle that has been accepted by experts in those fields for more than a century. Environmental science is to be taught without using the words “climate change” – despite the fact that we Floridians are seeing with our own eyes the reality of rising sea levels caused by polar ice melting. (My advice is to buy land in the Canadian Rockies.)


Worse, this year the legislature passed a bill allowing anyone – whether the parent of a schoolchild or not – to object to any portion of any curriculum, whether in science or not. Now that’s a good way for educators to maximize efficiency, using their time to appease any Know Nothing who stops by the school to argue. No wonder teachers are leaving the profession in droves.


Nor are the anti-science advocates limiting themselves to educational censorship, they also are drastically cutting back on research. There are many examples of this, but the most salient may come from the Tampa Bay Times’ Craig Pittman and this headline: “Florida Lightning Research Center, only one in the US, Idled by Loss of Money.” The center, which has been in existence since 1972, is closed now during our busy lightning season. Its $2 million annual budget was under the aegis of the Pentagon and was cancelled without notice. The world’s only remaining lightning research projects are – big surprise here – in China.


Florida has more lightning strikes than any other state in North America, but state government under Republican Rick Scott is joining the national government under Republican Donald Trump in remaining ignorant on this science. Craig Pittman reports that we don’t even know the answers to fundamental questions such as how lightning “starts in the clouds, or why it behaves the way it does, arcing from cloud to ground, or ground to cloud, or cloud to cloud.” Then there’s ball lightning and sheet lightning and winter lightning and other aspects of this phenomenon that have needed study since Benjamin Franklin flew his kite.


The center’s $2 million budget is a pittance in terms of Florida’s $78 billion annual spending. But even though scientists from all around the world came to work at the center (north of Gainesville at an abandoned army camp), its research is at a theoretical stage and has yet to demonstrate profitability. Profit seems to be everything with the Trumps and Scotts of the world, and too many legislators – who should write the budgets – blindly follow the leader. And thus demonstrate my premise that they don’t really care about true science.


Along with that, did you know that the Trump administration wants big cuts to NOAA, the National Oceanic and Aeronautic Administration – including closing the observation station at Ruskin? Now that’s a smart move in hurricane season. I remember when Al Gore came to MacDill to announce NOAA advances in Florida. It seems the day before yesterday to me, but Tampa Congresswoman Kathy Castor was barely out of college then. I’m sure she will vote against this cut, but it’s up to Republicans to influence the men who represent eastern and southern Hillsborough, northern Pinellas, Polk, Pasco, and elsewhere in Florida. We should know more about our weather, and the way to do that is to fund fundamental research. Because hurricanes will make landfall. Lightning will strike.


Leaker? Or Whistleblower?


Lots in the news about leaks from government officials to the media – but the recipients of such insider info almost always make it clear between the lines that the sender is a political appointee, usually in or near the White House. Some leaks appear to have come from the spying agencies, but few to no leakers seem to be among Washington’s longtime civil servants. Those folks simply keep the wheels on the track, while the big boys play at stabbing each other in the back. And why wouldn’t they, given the model of their leader?


It’s important, though, to think about the distinction between “leaker” and “whistleblower.” We admire the latter so much that we offer good monetary rewards for information that can root out corruption. History also will value moral courage more than loyalty to an uncertain leader. It rewards whistleblowers for their intelligence and integrity when they reveal secrets that are dangerous to democracy.


Although they kept their source of information out of the news, young journalists Bob Woodard and Carl Bernstein ultimately forced Republican President Richard Nixon to resign because of a whistleblower, or, as he would be termed today, a leaker. Those who followed up on the story eventually earned the nation’s gratitude, even from voters who -- unaware of his “enemies list” and wiretapping and authorization of both burglary and lying under oath -- re-elected Nixon. (Remember CREEP? Committee to Re-Elect the President? One of its leaders was Roger Stone, who now lives in South Florida and proclaims his closeness to another president with a part-time home there. Be warned.)


Leaker, whistleblower, whatever: Everything always should be about telling the truth. The truth can be uncomfortable, and this is especially so when it might cost your job and/or your reputation. But anyone smart enough to be in a position of power should be able to discern the difference between what is wrong and what is right, between the false and the true. Go tell it on a mountain.


doris@dweatherford.com




Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.

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